Passover: From Marking Old Freedom to Making New Freedom

The festive nights of marking ancient Freedom are over. The active days of making new Freedom are upon us.

While we were preparing meals with matzah, the bread that had no time to rise amid “fierce urgency of now,” the lawmakers of Georgia were baking the no-bread, no-water of enslaving would-be voters.

The recipe:

  1. Cook up a law reducing to almost none the voting centers in Black neighborhoods, meaning would-be voters will have to stand in line for long long hours, to vote.
  2. Make it a crime to offer food or water to those who are standing in line to vote.
  3. Burn it all in the oven of a racist Governor, and out comes the bread of affliction, the taste of subjugation.

Georgia’s new racist election law does not stand alone. Around the country, many state lawmakers are conspiring to deny the right to vote to Black communities, Latinx neighborhoods, and young voters of all colors who are college students. (The Brennan Center for Justice reports that “In Texas, one can vote with a handgun license, but not a student ID.”)

Only a Federal law can stop this multi-state assault on democracy. Here is what we can do:

Let us make  real what we have said at our Passover Seder: “Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who thirst for freedom, drink from Miriam’s Well!”    

The House of Representatives has passed the “For the People” bill. It is now before the Senate. The bill includes two weeks of early voting so no one need stand in line to vote, as well as automatic and same- day registration. It also restores the vote to all formerly incarcerated citizens and allows people who lack photo ID to vote with sworn affidavits of their identity.  It provides for new small-donor matching system to fund election campaigns, and outlaws partisan gerrymandering.

Before the 2020 election, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and will do so again. The John Lewis Act fixes the problems the Supreme Court claimed to find when it gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the John Lewis Act reestablishes  Federal “pre-clearance” for changes in election law by any state, not just in the South, that has a history of actions that prevent racial minorities from voting.

And finally, the House has passed and again will pass a law granting statehood to the people of the District of Columbia (renamed DC for “[Frederick] Douglass Commonwealth.”

All three of these steps toward a more inclusive democracy will then face an obdurate Senate filibuster, where it takes not a majority of 51 votes but 60 to pass a law.

The Senate is already an undemocratic, even anti-democratic body. States with fewer than a million people each (Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, north Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware) are each equal to states like California (42 million); Texas (28 million); Florida (21 million); New York (20 million); Illinois (13 million); and Pennsylvania (13 million).

The six smallest, with a total population fewer than five million people, cast 12 Senatorial votes; the six biggest – total population 137 million --  also cast 12 Senatorial votes. Since the small states have very few non-white people and the largest have much more diverse populations, the bias in favor of isolated whites is even greater. And the filibuster, greatly favoring small states with many Senators who can more easily put together a blocking 41 votes, makes it still more undemocratic.

Fifty Senators plus Vice-President Kamala Harris could change the Senate rules – even abolish the filibuster altogether. But there seem to be more than 50 Senators opposed to abolition.  There is growing support for making voting rights a specially sacred cause, to forbid a filibuster on that subject, just as the Senate forbade it for confirming judicial and executive appointments.

So this what I urge all of us to do: Make two phone calls, one to each of your Senators. (Just call 1202-224-3121 and tell the operator your state, asking for each Senator. If you are from DC, not yet a State with any Senators, ask for Majority Leader Schumer.

Start by saying your name and where you live. Tell then you are calling in honor of Passover‘s call for freedom and justice, or that same call embodied in the Last Supper (a Passover Seder) of Holy Week; or to honor Laylat HaBarat (March 28-29), the Muslim Night of Repentance; or to honor the Hindu Spring Festival of Colors, or any time of compassion and justice that appeals to you.

Why mention these? Because “democracy” is not just a vote or a law, though it must include them; it tastes of spiritual wisdom stirred up through millennia of peppering the pot in every kitchen.                                  

Then urge the Senator to co-sponsor and support three bills and one rules change:  The For the People Act (S1); the John Lewis Act when it reaches the Senate; DC Statehood for Douglass Commonwealth; and a rules change exempting all voting-rights bills from the filibuster.

After you have made your two phone calls, send us an email at saying you made these calls to which Senators, and your home address. We will send you a special commemoration of your action to “All who hunger for justice, come and eat!”

If you feel drawn to help The Shalom Center pursue justice in this way, please click on the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin, and send a gift to support this campaign.

And share this message with your friends, colleagues, and congregants.

May the blown-up tyranny of those who swallow up the votes of a free people vanish like the swollen chumitz in this Festival of Freedom!

Good yontif and shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur





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